McGraw: Time for Cubs to pick a pace for rebuild
Jed Hoyer was busy with the draft, but it would be interesting to know the thoughts of any member of the Ricketts family last weekend, when the Cubs' losing streak ended at nine in a row and dozens of "Let's go Mets" chants erupted at Wrigley Field.
Did they think, "This is unacceptable for a high-revenue, major-market team?"
Or did they focus more on the five crowds of 30,000-plus this week and send out a text along the lines of, "Go ahead and take your time with the rebuild, Jed."
The next two weeks leading up to the Aug. 2 trade deadline should be a good indication of whether the Cubs plan to step on the accelerator or just continue along at boat-cruise speeds.
It's possible to imagine the Cubs contending by next season using this three step plan: 1. Re-sign Willson Contreras; 2. sign a top of the rotation starting pitcher like Joe Musgrove or Carlos Rodon; 3. sign an all-star caliber position player, one of several shortstops or maybe a first baseman like Josh Bell. Then slowly sprinkle in those highly-touted prospects as they work their way up from Single A.
Does anyone think the Cubs will choose this path? Contreras doesn't seem to, since he called for the ball after collecting what could be his last hit as a Cub at Wrigley Field on Sunday.
Back in 2014, one of the key moments in the run to the World Series was convincing free-agent Jon Lester to believe in the future of a team coming off a 73-89 season.
If the Cubs hold another yard sale at the trade deadline, coveted free agents are likely to delete any voice messages coming from the North Side.
There's an argument that a catcher isn't a good midseason trade asset because of the time required to learn a new pitching staff, so we'll see how that goes. But it's starting to look like there's a better chance of the Cubs losing 90-something games next season than winning the division.
Granted, there's an argument to be made for a slow rebuild. If the Cubs can get to another World Series, the dismal years will be forgotten quickly, just like 2011-14.
Hoyer and Cubs management might be eyeing more top-10 draft picks, while flipping veterans for prospects when possible. Hoyer has talked about learning from past mistakes. By trading the organization's best minor-leaguers in an effort to win another World Series, the Cubs ended up with just one more playoff series victory and turned a 10-year window of success into a three-year window.
There are signs they've accomplished Step 1, doing a better job of developing young players. Three contributors this season -- Christopher Morel, Justin Steele and Keegan Thompson -- weren't ranked among the Cubs' top-20 prospects when they first arrived in the majors.
The Houston Astros aren't a bad model to follow, maybe minus the tub-thumping scandal. They suffered through three 100-loss seasons, but then delivered five straight years of getting to the ALCS and beyond. The Astros never signed any top-tier free agents and currently sit 27 games above .500 even after losing Gerrit Cole, Carlos Correa and George Springer.
Hoyer might be dreaming of a farm system deep enough to steadily deliver major-league talent to Clark and Addison, with leftovers for the occasional trade.
So which path will the Cubs choose for the rebuild: stairs or escalator? Either way, there's no guarantee of ever reaching the top.